Previewed On: PC
Developer: Blazing Griffin
Publisher: Blazing Griffin
Singleplayer: Yes (A.I. Bots)
Preview code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
As I admire a painting while munching on a pork pie I can’t but help reflect on the senseless violence that I’ve been a part of over the years. How many enemy combatants have I gunned down without a second thought? How many people have I run over? How often have I just punched people for no reason except that it was kind of funny? I give a mental sigh and move my avatar over to the balcony of this time-traveling air-ship. Was it all worth it? Is this truly what we humans are? Violent beings whose entertainment must always contain some form of mindless violence? As I smack my target over the head with a blunt object, I wonder to myself, should I go with the sword or the knuckle dusters for the next victim?
This is Murderous Pursuits, due for release on April 26th, and it tasks you with murdering other players who are blending in with the A.I. crowds, while you must also be careful not to alert your prey or get taken down by the people hunting you.
If it sounds familiar, that’s because this concept has appeared before. Back in 2006 a game called The Ship did almost everything you can find in Murderous Pursuits, and it even got a HD remaster which was released this year. Hell, the Assassin’s Creed games attempted this very same style of multiplayer as well. The real kicker is that the developers of this game are the very same people who handled the remaster of The Ship.
You pick a character from the roster and then spawn into a map inhabited by a mixture of NPCs, many of which have the same avatar as you, and other players. You’ll be given a single target, while up to two other players will be looking for you. The key is that scattered around the map are Vignettes, or basically areas in which NPCs gather where you can hide. Simply stand in these areas and your avatar will automatically blend in, merrily chatting to other characters or munching a pork pie while staring at a painting. The more you move and behave like an NPC, the better you’ll do. That means moving at a sedate speed and heading straight toward the next vignette with no deviation.
This ties into the Exposure system. Whenever you are in a Vignette your Exposure meter, maxing out at five, will increase. When you’re out in the open it’ll slowly drop, with the speed of that drop increasing if you fast-walk and practically falling off a cliff if you sprint. If the meter drains you’ll be marked so that your quarry can see you coming and your hunters know exactly where you are until you can get it back up again.
How many points you get for killing your target varies based on a few different things; the weapon you use, with more being available to grab in the levels, whether or not you were in a Vignette and your level of Exposure. In short, slower, more patient killing nets bigger points but also runs the risk of someone outpacing you by going for less score per kill but more corpses overall.
Should you try to murder anyone but your target you’ll be reprimanded by the mysterious narrator known as Mister X whose bidding you’re currently doing. You’ll also be stunned for several seconds and then given a new quarry to chase. Oh, and you look a bit stupid, too, standing in the middle of a room with a gormless look on your face.
There is also the guard/s to consider. Attempt to kill someone while a guard is watching and you’ll be arrested, again resulting in a lengthy stun. However, guards will often lose focus for a few key seconds as indicated by the icon above their head, giving you a window to smack someone, stab ’em or even shoot them before the guard suddenly remembers that he has a freaking job to do.
Alright, so how do you find the people you need to stab, shoot, bludgeon and punch? Well, at the top of your screen is an indicator with a green bar. Line up the bar with the center of the meter and you’ll be heading in the right direction, and the meter will even helpfully tell you whether the target is above or below you. However, as you move closer the green bar widens before eventually flashing green to let you know the target is within eyesight, but other than that you need to figure out who it is by carefully observing everyone.
Another indicator will inform you of when a hunter is nearby, giving you the chance to stun them before the murder the hell out of your face. I have to say that I love how the stun animation is you slapping them in the face.
Mixing things up is a very small selection of powers such as Reveal, which shows you whether everyone within a small radius are targets, hunters or just NPCs, a Flashbomb in case you want a quick get-away, a power for stunning incoming hunters and even one that lets you disguise yourself as another character. These do help mix things up a bit, though they also dilute the sense of skill the game has since something like reveal can’t be countered.
I also appreciate the inclusion of A.I. bots that can fill out the roster if you’re short on humans, which was very handy in the closed beta where getting a match with more than a few people proved challenging. You can also enter a practice mode composed entirely of bots so that you can get the hang of the mechanics and examine how the NPCs behave.
The end result of all this social blending and murdering is thunderously okay. There are certainly some nice thrills and spills to be had from casually observing a target, setting yourself up right beside them in a Vignette, waiting a few seconds for maximum points and then executing a glorious kill. Likewise, outwitting a hunter by seeing them coming a mile away before slapping them in the face for a stun is very, very satisfying. Yet I couldn’t help shake the feeling that after a few matches I’d seen everything the game had to offer. Of course, this is just the closed beta I’m talking about so the full release on April 26th might reveal some hidden depths, and during the beta it was hard to get a full game of human players. Watch this space for a full review down the line.